What Traits Draw You To Dogs?

There are often patterns in the dogs we choose
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2020, Updated June 2021
what we love about dogs / black lab

The type of dog that always pulls at my heart

Picture a lean, healthy dog that reminds you of a Golden Retriever but has a black coat. It is full of vigor and bounciness with very shiny fur. Add one or more random white splotches on the chest, feet or tip of the tail. Imagine that this dog is playful, athletic and that it has warm amber eyes. That picture in your head is a dog I’m sure to be drawn to. What can I say? I don’t know why this type is so appealing to me, but again and again dogs like this pull me in, even though I love all sorts of dogs. It’s not unusual for people to be drawn to a certain look, type of behavior or a combination of both, in a way that goes beyond just favoring a particular breed.

I used to work with a trainer who couldn’t resist a foxy dog. Pomeranians, American Eskimos, Finnish Spitzes, Keeshounds and Shiba Inus were among her favorites. A furry-faced dog with prick ears, a pointy muzzle and a thick coat got to her every time.

There are any number of physical traits that seem to draw people to dogs over and over, and they can be very specific. Some people adopt blind or deaf dogs repeatedly. I met one family that was drawn to three-legged dogs. When I first met them, they told me that they had 4 dogs, but only 13 legs. Other traits that appeal to people can be a bit more general such as being really big or really small. Others love dogs with a dark eye patch or a block-shaped head.

Many people love old dogs, preferring to take in dogs who are already in their golden years. Plenty of people seek dogs with extreme athleticism, whether it has to do with speed or jumping ability. Since I am a runner and socialize with many who share my love of the sport, I commonly meet people whose only criterion for the next dog is that the dog will make a good running partner.


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Plenty of people have a house full of dogs that were all strays at one time, and being lost is what made these dogs especially welcome. There are guardians who specialize in dogs who are extremely fearful. Others have owned multiple dogs with a specific behavioral issue such as being an escape artist, a committed digger or a counter surfer. Sometimes they had one such dog and then adopted another dog with that same trait because they know how to work through it.

Of course, lots of people have had dogs of such variety that there is no obvious pattern to the choices about which dogs to welcome into the family next. Some of those actively seek variety and want something new in terms of look, size or behavior with each dog so that they are not always comparing a dog with a recently departed one. Others just like a wide range of dogs and end up with a variety of them over the years.

Are you drawn to a specific type of dog over and over? Or, is there no obvious pattern to the dogs that come into your home and into your heart?

Photo: Bianca Ackermann / Unsplash

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life